The Strategic Plan relies heavily for its justification upon certain numerical trends presumably exposed through statistical analysis. Consequently, there is some discussion in the blogosphere of whether the analysis is accurate. That’s a worthwhile point to consider: is the underlying statistical analysis used to justify this Strategic Plan actually inaccurate and flawed?
But I have a more fundamental concern with all this. While statistical analysis may be interesting, I am deeply troubled by this kind of application of it in the spiritual realm. I think there is a problem with how we are using statistical analysis if the result is that we think we must be doing something right or wrong based on that analysis. The Church does not fit a business or manufacturing model of any sort, and she has no mechanical processes that can be relied upon to provide a specific ‘positive growth’ result when properly deployed. Relying upon this kind of statistical analysis as an indicator of health is, at best, a category error — at worst it implies a crass Finneyism.
I am not suggesting that we ought to ignore the statistics altogether. It is certainly good to have access to such information. But this information is no reliable indicator of the health of a denomination. The call of Christ upon the Church and her ministry is not to watch the numbers, but to be faithful in the means of grace. God does not promise us any kind of a mechanical correspondence between such faithfulness and numerical growth. It is a dangerous error to rely upon outward results, especially numerical results, as an indicator of faithfulness. When we see a change in the numbers we do not need ‘some new plan.’ Whether the numbers go up, down, or stay the same, our duty and calling as a Church does not change. We are always and ever to remain steadfast and immovable in the faith, pouring out the Gospel in all its fulness. Yes, God is pleased to bless His means, and we ought not to expect His blessing apart from His appointed means. But God does not bless His appointed means mechanically. The numbers are no indication one way or the other with regard to obedience.